Words and photos by Adam Edwards

You know that bloke who works in your local CEX with a tempered mohawk and Dead Kennedys t-shirt - the one who looks at you with such scorn, you and everyone else like you who's had the temerity to hope for more than £2 for your trade-in on Assassin's Creed 2 (you meant no offence, it's still a good game and it was revolutionary in its day, like) - who seems perpetually in a mood and you wonder if he ever actually enjoys anything?

Well, if you're in the Manchester area then there's a good chance that NOFX at the HMV Ritz is one place where he goes to have a good time. A balmy Tuesday evening saw around 1500 modern punks pack in to the sold-out venue, with studded leather jackets and patched-up denim as far as the eye could see. I think there's still something quite aesthetically pleasing about a music scene that tends to have such a consistent dress code - though as the first plastic pint glass of 'warm beer' sailed suspiciously close to my head I realised for the first time that I was stood in a photo pit in front of 1500 mohawks whilst dressed almost obnoxiously indie. I hunkered out of sight.

Fortunately for me the crowd's attention soon turned to support band SNUFF. A quintessentially, gloriously English punk-rock band who've been around for decades and admirably fit about 16 songs into a 35-minute support slot. A terrifically English vibe runs through everything Snuff do - from a superb rendition of the famous Channel 4 cricket-theme "Soul Limbo" by Booker T & The MG's (rechristened to simply "Cricket" - and the Match of the Day theme has been known to pop-up in many-a live set), to liberally using the words 'arsehole' and 'bollocks' with no pretence whatsoever. They'd be a much better replacement for that bloody England band at Euro 2012, at least.

Each song is plowed through with a pace that gives the impression that the band thought "Milo Goes To College" was perhaps 10 minutes too long; 2 minutes of loud barre chords, 30 seconds of jokingly lamabasting each other for any cock-ups, rinse, repeat. Blasting through the set - the highlight being their great 2003 single and old P-Rock favourite "Chocs Away" - yet somehow finding time to playfully slag each other off over outfit choices (the keyboard player's jacket is adjudged to be "too fucking mod" by singer Duncan Redmonds), Snuff are a great live band in their own right and perform a top job of warming up this capacity crowd. I'd like to go for a pint with Snuff. They'd probably call me an arsehole and admonish my pointy shoes but that's neither here nor there - even after 25 years they remain one of the best examples of Anglo punk rock. It's not long to wait until the headlining act, and after a brief huddle and a vodka toast NOFX take the stage. The forefathers of modern Californian punk-rock have been around for nearly 30 years now but it'd take a brave man to call them completely mature. After a brief first song the band's bassist/vocalist/de-facto leader Fat Mike espies a girl on her mobile in the front row - it's duly passed to guitarist/trumpeter/resident-impressionist El Hefe who proceeds to cast doubt upon the moral fortitude of the girl to the person on the other end of the line (who we later find out is the girl's mum). Is it big and clever? Nope. But it's harmlessly entertaining and sets the tone for the rest of the gig.

It's the band's first show in Manchester for almost 8 years and the crowd are treated to a couple of songs from the interim, album tracks from 2006's Wolves in Wolves' Clothing and 2009's Coaster. With such an enormous back catalogue NOFX could feasibly play a different set for each night of this tour, but you feel it wouldn't make a difference to the crowd who seem to know devotedly each verse off by heart. Before starting the song, Fat Mike announces that "The Quass" is about to be given its UK debut despite being written over 18 years ago - the crowd return the gift by crowd-surfing en-masse, the rest of the audience becoming part of a giant amorphous mosh-pit across The Ritz's vintage dancefloor. Those who wish to just stand and watch this gig have sensibly retreated to the venue's balcony as anyone left standing downstairs will inevitably be sucked into the whirlpool that is a 1000-strong melee of pogoing; it's an impressive sight to behold considering we're only about 5 songs in. Incidentally the audience is encouragingly made up of allsorts - couples in their 50's and groups of new teenage punkers of both sexes mosh together. Considering the band formed potentially 10 years before a lot of this audience was born, it's certainly a nice sight and it's clear by the smiles inbetween pogos and fistpumps that people are having a good time.

Like Snuff before them NOFX are incredibly tight - almost paradoxically so for punk rock bands. The setlist encompasses a huge range of albums, eras and styles, including a rendition of faux-reggae/dub track "Eat The Meek", the chorus of which provides a brilliant singalong with the crowd for one of the highlights of the night. At about 3 and a half minutes long it'll prove to be the longest song of the night as well. Tracks like "Leave It Alone" and "Linoleum" are as close to breakthrough bonafide hits as the band will allow and they go down a treat with the Manchester audience, the songs bookended by chat from the band both to the punters and between themselves. There's a slight risk of chatting too much but frankly, NOFX have the crowd in the palm of their hands and can take their sweet time - at least they're putting in the effort, 100%.

Whereas decendants of the NOFX vibe such as Blink-182 and The Offspring have found huge success with the punk-rock + goofiness formula, NOFX themselves have remained much the same as always - occasionally silly, yes, but there is a serious vein to the band as well. Particularly since the turn of the century (or in other words, since the age of GW Bush) there has been an overtly political edge to the band's material, and anti-racism and anti-homophobia banners adorn the stage. Though there's a good chance a lot of the politically slanted lyrics will be lost on this North-West-England audience, the band still show a connection to the roots of original punk that went before them - lending a certain gravitas to their music and performance that other light-hearted bands do not achieve.

After an accordian solo - certainly an acquired taste -from guitarist Eric Melvin and an encore including mosh-magnet "Stickin' In My Eye" (leading to another spate of crowd-surfing, seemingly half the crowd throwing themselves towards the stage like a pack of pierced lemmings), it's time for the show to close. Though I'd be lying if I said I'd listened to a NOFX CD since 6th form, they were a large part of my formative years and heavily responsible for me learning to palm-mute the fuck out of a guitar when I was 14 - and this gig has hit the spot. It's unlikely that a person hearing them for the first time tonight would be converted - but this is an audience made up of NOFX fans, and I'd wager that each and every one of them has gone home happy and hoarse. It's also obvious that the group realise they've made a living from jamming with their friends for 30 years and they - and everyone in the room - has had a lot of fun tonight. Even that miserable bloke from CEX.